A recent study published Monday in Nature reports the discovery of a “relict galaxy” – NGC 1277 – about 240 million light-years away from our Milky Way.
This galaxy is unique, considered an example of what galaxies looked like in the primitive Universe. The galaxy is made up exclusively of aging stars born 10 billion years ago. Four times smaller than the Milky Way, it has twice as many stars. But unlike the other galaxies of the local Universe, it has not undergone any other star formation since. Astronomers describe these galaxies as “red and dead” because the stars are aging and there are no successive generations of younger stars.
The revealing sign of this study lies in the ancient globular clusters that surround the dead galaxy. The reddish clusters are proof that the galaxy has not formed stars for a very long time. Otherwise, there would be many clusters of blue globular stars, which are largely absent here. More than 10 billion years ago, however, this galaxy was very active, producing stars 1000 times faster than our own Milky Way today.
You will find this galaxy near the center of the Perseus cluster – a cluster of galaxies located in the constellation Perseus about 240 million light-years away. The latter is part of the Perseus-Pisces Superamas, and has about 190 galaxies out of the other 1,000 that are there. It is the most brilliant cluster of galaxies known to date. NGC 1277 moves so fast through the group – at more than 3 million km / h – that it can not merge with other galaxies to collect stars or fire gas to fuel its star formation. Also, near its center, the intergalactic gas is so hot that it would need to cool to condense and form new stars.
Although Hubble has already observed such galaxies, none had ever been found nearby. NGC 1277 offers a unique opportunity to learn more about the conditions that prevailed in the early Universe